PC Gamer: The community items you've done so far have been fairly minor stats in most cases. Is that a rule for community items?
Robin Walker: It's more a reflection of the amount of time we had to spend on them, and us being very safe. Like, I think the Crit-a-Cola was designed the day before it went out, to be honest, which is terrifying. But sometimes we can think of something that you can make a pretty educated guess on, yeah, this is going to work out.
We definitely have lowballed those in the past, in that we've chosen something that's more underpowered than overpowered, because we can just make it a little better later. The Polycount items have had a lot more time on them as a whole, so, we're doing more interesting stuff there than in general we have with the other items.
PC Gamer: Have you figured out what the Spy's knife should do yet?
Robin Walker: Yes. Yeah.
PC Gamer: And?
Robin Walker: (laughs)
PC Gamer: It's facestabs, isn't it?
Robin Walker: No, we've actually finally hired someone who can write the code to prevent facestabs and that's the feature: it can't do facestabs, that's the negative!
PC Gamer: No-one will use that! How far off do you think the next update is going to be?
Robin Walker: Hopefully this month. If not this month, not too far away. That stuff's going well, we're having a lot of fun internally with the new items.
PC Gamer: Just for you personally, is it still fun to be working on TF2? I mean, you have to say yes, but...
Robin Walker: No, I mean you can look at my stats, you're on my friends list, I play Team Fortress 2 pretty regularly in public. I go through stages. Right now I'm playing a lot of Demo Knight and Huntsman Sniper, the two of them are really different from their base classes, so I have a lot of fun with those, too.
PC Gamer: I mean, in terms of having to come into work every day and think about the same kind of problems.
Robin Walker: If you look at what we've been doing in TF, they're not really the problems we had initially. Some of it, in terms of adding new items and so on, but to me that's always the fun part of design: where you have a big system. The hard part of game design is, how do you add something interesting to a system and only perturb it in the ways you intend, that you want? That's a really interesting design problem, whether it's TF or Alien Swarm or Counter Strike. It's never been a factor, it's just an interesting intellectual challenge.
On the other side of it, outside that, there's the stuff we're doing with items and managing the community. You know, the blog itself has been an interesting learning experience for the last couple of years, learning how to talk to customers in a way they like that conveys the right information is an interesting and funny thing to do.
The community items is a really interesting thing to do. If you'd said, when we shipped TF2, that the community would build more assets for TF2 in a couple of weeks than in the entire time we'd been on it, we wouldn't have believed you. So it's really interesting figuring out how to use that in a way that's cool and exciting. It's a really interesting problem, so, yeah, there's always new stuff.
PC Gamer: What was the story with the guy who got his Golden Wrench destroyed while they were sitll being given out?
Robin Walker: The hacked guy? It's interesting. If we ran the golden wrench promotion permanently, we would slowly find every hacker on Steam. It was like a magnet that drew out lots of stuff.
We put in a message for when someone finds a golden wrench, but we also put one in for deleting one, because we knew the community would see it and they would think “What happens?” It was acknowledging that this was important in some way and we knew someone was going to be the person who was going to try it.
And so, on the second or third day of that week, someone deleted theirs. And we were like “Oh my god.” So the community's trying to find out, "Why did you do it? Who did it?" And at that time someone posted on the Something Awful TF2 thread saying “I think my account just got hacked, I think they just deleted my wrench!”
And we have guys who read Something Awful, because we try to read TF threads on every forum we can find, basically. So we found that and ran downstairs to the support guys, and they dug into it. And sure enough, it was clear as day he had been hacked. It was a guy in Brazil, and suddenly some guy in the UK logs in, changes his account and deletes his wrench and everything, so we rolled it all back and fixed it.
The end cap to that story is that I think a week later he had his account hacked again. It's funny.
PC Gamer: No-one's destroyed one intentionally yet?
Robin Walker: There's a cool charity going on right now, which I think we're going to blog post about today ( they did ). I think that's awesome stuff, I love it when the community's doing crazy stuff like that.
PC Gamer: It seems like the crossover between game design and philosophy: if you create something and you tell people you can destroy it, they will destroy it.
Robin Walker: (laughs) Absolutely.
PC Gamer: Ages ago, must have been around the time of Gold Rush, I remember you guys told me you had Meet The Medic done but weren't sure if you were happy with it.
Robin Walker: The short answer is: we weren't.
PC Gamer: We haven't had one of those for a while, right?
Robin Walker: Yes. We've had these two awesome intros for Left 4 Dead 1 and Left 4 Dead 2 to do, and that's the short answer for it.
PC Gamer: Is there one coming with the next update?
Robin Walker: I don't know.
PC Gamer: Fair enough. Thanks very much, Robin.
That's it for this mega interview. But at midnight pacific time (8AM tomorrow BST), we'll also have an interview with Left 4 Dead 2 producer Chet Faliszek. And our issue on-sale in the UK on September 1st will be a Valve special, with lots more detail on their grand plan from MD Gabe Newell. We'll have much more detail on what we've got inside the mag, soon.